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Thursday, 2nd November 2023

Law Centre NI’s work helps change law on support for bereaved families—even in England

A recent Court of Appeal judgment builds on a previous judgment in a case brought by Law Centre Northern Ireland, applying its argument also to the benefits system in England.

Daniel Jwanczuk’s wife, Suzzi, passed away in November 2020. Daniel applied for Bereavement Support Payment (BSP) to help him cope with the financial impact of his loss. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rejected Daniel’s application, saying that Suzzi had not paid enough National Insurance contributions (NIC) during her lifetime.

The reason Suzzi had not done so was that she had had severe, lifelong disabilities that prevented her from working and paying NIC. To fight this unfairness, Daniel challenged the DWP at the High Court in 2022 and won—but the DWP appealed the decision. On 11 October, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision, ruling again in Daniel’s favour, in a judgement that is now final.

The Court of Appeal’s judgement in Daniel’s case, that related to benefits in England, relied on a 2020 judgment in a case brought by Law Centre NI, that related to benefits in Northern Ireland.

Michael O’Donnell had been struggling to support his four children since the death of his wife, Pauline, in July 2017. Like David, Michael’s application for BSP had been rejected by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities on the basis that Pauline had not made enough National Insurance contributions. Pauline, too, had been unable to work due to disability.

Without Bereavement Support Payments, the O’Donnells were in real hardship: Michael spoke of winters where he “wouldn’t have the fuel in the house to keep it warm.” Michael contacted his local Law Centre, that helped him build his case and take it through the courts, reaching the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.

In August 2020, the Court ruled that the Department of Communities’ decision had breached Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In other words, BSP had effectively been denied on the basis of disability, which was discriminatory.

Michael’s case changed the law in Northern Ireland, meaning others in his position there would no longer be denied BSP. Now, following the Jwanczuk case, the same principle argued by the Law Centre is applied to England as well, extending support to more families in distress.

Ursula O’Hare, Director of Law Centre Northern Ireland, said:

“For both Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Jwanczuk, the award of Bereavement Support Payment would have gone a long way to help their families at really difficult times in their lives. Their legal challenges have highlighted the urgent need for reform of bereavement benefits and now people in similar circumstances to Mr. Jwanczuk and Mr. O’Donnell will find it easier to access this vital support.

“That is what Law Centres are about: not only do we work to change the lives of our clients and their families, but to influence wider change to the law so everyone experiencing the same injustice benefits."

For media enquiries, please contact media@lawcentres.org.uk

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